We make reading more serious than it needs to be.
When you look at human history, the fundamental human problems are the same in all ages. No matter what problem we face, odds are someone has faced it before and written about it.
Carl Sagan states in ‘The Persistence of Memory’:
“Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Through books, we can learn from citizens of distant epochs. The solution to every problem lies in some a book. That’s why reading is the key to a successful and happy life.
Over the last years, I transformed from reading two books a year to reading at least one book a week. If I can do this, you can too. These tiny shifts can help make reading a habit for life.
1) Buy the books you really want to read.
When I started reading, I followed celebrities reading recommendations and best-seller lists. If Charlie Munger, Melinda Gates, or the New York Times recommend a book, it’s a must-read for me.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These lists are not where you want to start your reading journey. As Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in his essay on reading and books: “People read always only the newest instead of the best of all times.”
We shouldn’t read the book everyone talks about. Because the best person to judge whether you should read a is neither a billionaire nor a newspaper — it’s you.
“Read what you love until you love to read.”
How to do it:
Start with what sparks your interest. A few hundred books in, you will anyway gravitate towards the good stuff.
Depending on where you are in life right now and whether you want to read for fun or learning, ask yourself:
- What are you most curious about right now?
- Which life area (health, wealth, relationships, work) do you want to advance?
- What’s a problem in life you really want to see solved?
Find ten-books that potentially satisfy your needs. Search for keywords or experts within the niche. Go to a bookstore and ask for timeless recommendations.
Then, scan through the book’s table of content. Read a few pages and see whether the words resonate with you. Buy three books that attract you the most.
Oh, and if a book doesn’t promise to deliver on your questions, quit it. There are too many great books waiting for you. Choose wisely, then, read thoroughly.
2) Create your ultimate reading environment.
“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us,“ Dr. Marshall Goldsmith wrote about triggers.
Desired behavior isn’t tied to our willpower. Instead, self-control and self-discipline depend much more on our environment, Nobel-prize winner Thaler discovered.
I bet if we compare a person who takes their phone to the bedroom with a person who doesn’t, the latter will almost always read more.
Resisting social media’s mechanisms is incredibly hard. You don’t want to be nudged to use your phone first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening.
Instead, you want to design your environment to make it work for you. As James Clear put it:
“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.”
How to do it:
Keeping your phone away from your bed is one of the hardest habits to break. But the work is worth it.
I replaced my phone with an alarm clock and stopped taking my phone to the bed two years ago. Best-decision ever. In bed, I can either sleep or read.
As soon as you charge your phone outside of your bedroom, you have more time during the evenings and the mornings. Instead of newsfeeds, your environment invites you to read.
The less time you spend on your phone, the more you’ll read.
What also helped me is making reading obvious. I put my book on the pillow when I make my bed in the morning. Thereby, reading in bed becomes the default option. Not having to use willpower will set you up for a reading habit for life.
3) Don’t eat the same dish for breakfast and dinner.
You don’t want to eat the same dish for breakfast and breakfast. Why would you read the same book in the morning and the evening?
Many people try to force themselves through a specific book at a specific time. Reading becomes joyless. Ultimately, they stop reading altogether.
Don’t feel like reading before you go to sleep? Chances are high it’s the wrong book on your bed table.
By reading different books simultaneously, you can take a break from whatever title you don’t want to read at that time. Books are patient. They’ll wait for you until you feel like picking them up again.
“Everyone I know is stuck on some book. I’m sure you’re stuck on some book right now. It’s page 332, you can’t go on any further but you know you should finish the book, so what do you do? You give up reading books for a while.”
Plus, reading different books at the same time can reveal unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated titles. As James Clear says: “The most useful insights are often found at the intersection of ideas.“
How to do it:
Start a new book before you finished the one you’re reading. Place your books in locations that remind you to read them at the right time.
Right now, I’m reading 12 books. In the morning, before journaling, I often read a page of ‘Meditations.’ The physical book is right next to my journal. I’ll dive into ‘How to Take Smart Notes’ right after writing to level up my reading practice. That’s why my Kindle is on my desk. ‘Leaders Eat Last’ lingers on my shelf since last May, but I’ll give it a second chance before I quit it. Before sleep, I want to dive into a new world, and I do this with a historical novel.
Don’t force yourself through a content-dense book before you start a new one. This slows down your reading practice and takes away any joy. Having different books for different situations will change the way you look at books.
4) Apply new knowledge to improve your life.
Reading lets, you borrow smart people’s brains. Yet, reading per se doesn’t make you a better person. You can read a book a week without changing at all.
If you only read but never act upon your new knowledge, reading can feel like a time-waster. Ratna Kusner said:
“Knowledge trapped in books neatly stacked is meaningless and powerless until applied for betterment of life.”
It’s about what and how you read that will improve your life’s quality and enhance your mind.
Social climber Dale Carnegie used to say knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied. And to apply what you read, you must take your reading game to the next level.
How to do it:
If you stumble upon useful advice in a book, act immediately. Put an item on your to-do list or place an action item on a specific spot.
By forming action items from your books, you’ll make the most out of any book. You’ll be able to apply knowledge from books to your life.
Don’t intend to read a specific number of books per year. Instead, take your time with the books that can transform your life. Reread them and act upon new knowledge.
When you witness how reading improves the way you go through life, you’ll gladly make reading a habit for life.
No matter who you are or what you do, reading can help you achieve your goals. But most of the time, we make reading more serious than it needs to be. Sometimes, tiny shifts can change the way we read.
- Read the books you can’t stop thinking about.
- In the bedroom, replace your phone with a book.
- Be okay with reading different books at the same time.
- Apply what you read to your life.
While each of these points can change how you read in one way or the other, they only serve as inspiration, and you certainly don’t need to implement every single one.
Choose one or two you like, but screw the rest. Only one person should define your reading journey — you.
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